In anticipation of Zack Snyder’s Justice League, coming to HBO Max in March, I’ve decided to look back at 2013’s Man of Steel, a divisive superhero film. The film concentrates on visual spectacle rather than a story. Aside from being another Superman origin story, it takes literal leaps of faith that lack previous adaptations’ credibility and originality.
Henry Cavill plays Clark Kent this time around, and the movie goes through his journey of becoming the Man of Tomorrow. Diane Lane and Kevin Costner portray John and Martha Kent. While Lane doesn’t get a lot to do, her presence as a screen legend is reassuring. Costner gets the weighty dialogue imploring Clark to live up to his gifts’ responsibility, which leads the young man to use his gifts to help others. Michael Shannon’s Zod (Michael Shannon) has the Ra’s Al Ghul complex of purifying the earth and using it to bring back Kryptonians. Superman has to stop this literal hostile takeover but at what cost.
Zack Snyder is a fantastic visual storyteller. You can see examples of how brilliantly he can craft a story in films like Watchmen and Dawn of the Dead. Man of Steel doesn’t showcase what he can do with great characters. The problem is twofold. It’s too dense, and Cavill, while he looks the part, doesn’t do much to exude calm. The film’s density is due to the pacing of the villains’ plans and Clark’s uneasiness at accepting his role as the world’s savior.
Both of these ideas are great and are shaped by tragedies from Clark’s past where revealing himself may have brought about more questions than answers. Still, the whole plot feels heavy-handed, and the story necessitates that Superman acts more like Batman than the symbol of hope he normally symbolizes. That alone creates a disconnect with the audience because of their knowledge and past experiences with the character. This is not the fault of Cavill nor anyone who works with him in any scene. The movie is too self-serious for its own good, and Snyder and company forgot to keep it simple.
Henry Cavill is a fantastic actor and physically perfect for the role of Superman. The problem both he and his predecessor Brandon Routh ran into is that stylistically the tone went in a direction that didn’t involve the audience. Christopher Reeve’s portrayal was both jovial and serious, which is why audiences were happy to come back for three more installments even though each subsequent movie made less of an impact. Audiences believed in the man, not the superhero. He was flawed and able to be vulnerable, and it came across as genuine, which is why long after his paralysis, people still saw Reeve as their Superman. Cavill came across as too sullen and forced the audience to invest in anyone but him because he was hesitant to own his many strengths.
Movies are supposed to help us escape, but their primary function, especially in superhero films to show us who we have the capacity to be. Lois Lane (Amy Adams) may have gotten into all kinds of danger, but that never stopped the character from being perceptive, understanding, and kind. She was all the traits superman is supposed to embody, which is why it fails to move me anytime I watch it.
Man of Steel was supposed to give audiences hope, but its tone and dense story made the movie kryptonite for audiences everywhere. If you want a better version, I have hope for Tyler Hoechlin’s portrayal of the character in Superman and Lois. You never need to believe that a man can fly only that he can show you what it means to hope. We all need that right now.